An Alternative View on NYUAD

Matthew Silverstein, Guest Writer

The WSN Editorial Board calls for NYU to divest from NYU Abu Dhabi. The reason offered is the recent denial of security clearance to two New York-based members of the NYU faculty: Mohamad Bazzi of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and Middle East and Islamic Studies professor, Arang Keshavarzian. The WSN Editorial Board argues that these visa denials demonstrate that the Abu Dhabi campus cannot uphold NYU’s commitment to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

First, let’s get some factual matters straight. No one denies that there are various respects in which the United Arab Emirates is an illiberal society, and many of us here have always conceived of NYUAD as an experiment, testing the question of whether a fundamentally liberal institution can thrive in such a society. That said, the Editorial Board’s confident declaration that the UAE is “decades behind” the United States in the sphere of human rights ignores both the United States’ frequently abominable record on human rights (at home and abroad) and the various ways in which the UAE is ahead of the U.S. In only one of these countries does everyone have health insurance or access to free health care. Can you guess which one it is? More generally, what matters here is whether the various restrictions in place in the UAE make it impossible for NYUAD to carry out its mission to be both an elite liberal arts college and a top research university. If the fact that two members of the NYU faculty were denied security clearance to teach in the UAE is evidence that NYUAD is failing as a liberal institution, then surely the fact that various Abu Dhabi-based faculty and students have been denied entry to the U.S. is evidence that the New York campus is similarly failing. Is the WSN Editorial Board ready to draw the conclusion that NYU itself is a failed experiment?

The WSN Editorial Board also claims to have reported in the past that “multiple NYUAD students and teachers have faced discrimination from the UAE government due to religious beliefs.” Yet the only evidence the previous report cites in support of this assertion is Professor Bazzi’s insistence that his security clearance was denied because of his Shiite background. It is certainly possible that Bazzi is correct, but this is hardly something the WSN Editorial Board can assert with any confidence. The UAE Ministry of Interior, much like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, does not provide explanations to go along with its visa denials. And there are Shiite Muslims among both the faculty and the student body at NYUAD, indicating that there is nothing so straightforward as a ban on Shia in place. Whether we will be able to say the same about the U.S. in the coming months and years is far from obvious. If the Trump administration is successful in implementing its favored immigration laws, the U.S. borders will soon be governed by an openly discriminatory policy. Even under current regulations, NYUAD faculty have suffered when trying to enter the U.S. In 2016, one of our professors was stopped at a U.S. airport upon arrival, handcuffed and questioned for several hours, and then summarily deported. He was also told that he could not reenter the U.S. for five years, making any visit to NYU in New York impossible. This does not happen only to people at NYUAD, of course. In 2014, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study invited Jordanian poet Amjad Nasser for a reading and discussion of his work. He was barred by Homeland Security from entering the U.S. We have as much or more evidence that Nasser and my colleague were prevented from coming to the U.S. at least in part because they are Muslims than we have that Bazzi and Keshavarzian cannot teach in Abu Dhabi because they are Shia. Clearly, NYUAD is not the only NYU campus located in a country with borders that are less than fully open.

My question for the WSN Editorial Board, then, is: why the double standard? If you are so confident that NYU’s values of diversity, equity and inclusion have been compromised by the recent visa denials at NYU Abu Dhabi, you should be similarly confident that these values have been compromised at the main campus in New York. Perhaps, in addition to divesting from NYUAD, we should all leave NYU entirely and set up shop in a country where this sort of thing never happens. Please let us know when you find such a country.


Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Matthew Silverstein at [email protected]



  1. I don’t think the author gets it at all. He is a professor @AD, the Arab school affiliated with NYU. If the Professor and his Philosophy colleagues were denied entry to AD, they wouldn’t be able to enter AD to teach. So the Philosophy dept. might have to shut down their program in AD as a result, aka “divest”. So why is it wrong for Journalism to do the same? Their professors were denied. Furthermore, Journalism can’t really function in a country where academics don’t have freedom of speech.

    The way I see it is, they have their country and campus; we have ours. There was no need for NYU to affiliate with this site in the first place. The Arabs have every right to set their laws in their own country and that is fine.

    NYU = New York University. Not Abu Dhabi, nor Shanghai university. There was no need to go set up shop with the Chinese or Arabs in the first place. They are not our allies, they don’t share our values, we have no need to align with them.

  2. NYUAD is not an “Arab school affiliated with the NYU”, it is an NYU campus in the Middle East. NYU didn’t decide to affiliate with the Abu Dhabi or Shanghai campuses – NYU *created* these campuses.

    There is no Journalism dept at NYUAD, there is one journalism course about every 2-3 semesters. What they don’t understand is that “divesting” from NYUAD – never again even trying to send prof to AD (when NYUAD is trying really hard to get all the visas approved) is a) mostly hurting the students who had absolutely nothing to do with the visa bs; b) judging a place they know very little about and deciding that it is “not worthy” of even trying to offer an education; c) very hypocritical bc I can guarantee you a lot more students and prof from AD got denied a U.S. visa than the other way around.

    A lot of NYUAD students would trade it for NYC in a heartbeat. You see the problem is that U.S. has such an “open” visa policy that some nationalities cannot even try to apply for a visa anymore. The problem is that for a lot of Muslims this would mean dealing with hate every day. The problem is that most of NYUAD students could never afford NYU education, and U.S. student grants and loans are also oh so generous to foreigners.

    I am sorry to hear such a closed-minded opinion, that you want nothing to do with Arabs or Chinese. There is no perfect place in the world, and in the previous years I think the U.S. has only proved they are far far far from anything perfect. Every NYU student across the Global Network is just trying to make it, and it hurts us a lot to hear you want nothing to do with us when everyone at NYUAD worked their asses off to get to NYU. We didn’t all have the same opportunities in life. For some people UAE is a very liberal place (more liberal then their home or other alternatives), and for some people the U.S. is a very oppressive place.

  3. This is in response to Maureen’s comment above, although I’m not sure she will read this, or that she read the original article (also, feeling vaguely uncomfortable that she referred to “Arabs” as though referring to the people of a single country).

    It would be the height of hypocrisy for NYU to divest itself of the Abu Dhabi campus on the grounds of human rights abuses or even denying professors entry into the country. The United States has its own awful human rights record, and as the article very explicitly stated, has denied professors from abroad entry, with an equal likelihood of the professors turned away from the US being profiled based on religion or perceived religion. Assuming that the accusations of discrimination re: faculty getting to NYUAD are not wildly overblown (which, er, they sort of are), NYU cannot exactly point to the US government’s record as a shining example.

    As for journalism functioning in a country where academics don’t have freedom of speech – of course it’s frustrating, but the fact that there isn’t much room for a discipline in a given place doesn’t mean you abandon it entirely, you just try and find ways to make as much of it work as possible, for the sake of the students and the people. Besides, people at NYUAD come from all over the world and can spread their knowledge and skills all over the world, so I’d rather they continue to be given the opportunity to learn how to work in a journalistic profession than not.

    I think it’s lazy of the journalism department to divest itself – they’re giving up on a host of students who are interested and want to learn about the journalism field? Because…they think maybe visa denials might have been based on something discriminatory? And they aren’t even sure? Read the letter they sent announcing their divestment. They literally wrote, “We haven’t received an explanation,” but that they’d be uncomfortable IF something like that were found to be true. And then severed the relationship.

    And if it comes down to “the way I see it,” we all share the same world. Individuals should be allies as much as possible even if governments are not. “Setting up shop” with the Emiratis (not “Arabs”) and the Chinese is an important way for us to learn about them and for them to learn about us, bringing our world closer together and hopefully leading to peace in the future. If we have no friends or allies among the people of a foreign nation, it only increases the likelihood of war somewhere down the line. These collaborative schools are an investment in a future of peace and mutual understanding, and as such it is absolutely necessary that we align with them. It doesn’t always work, but it’s sure as hell better to try then give up and retreat under our respective rocks.

    It also seems insensible that you would so rigidly separate “their” values from “our” values. From what I can tell, you and I do not share the same values. But we’re both American and we can’t just leave, so it’s better to discuss, right? Same with the world. American “values,” in the most childishly simple, black-and-white understanding of what a value is, may not always align with Emirati values or Chinese values, but we share a world and we’re going to have to learn to get along in it somehow, and that, admittedly sometimes unfortunately, means compromising on values sometimes. Nobody is setting up shop anew – we’re already in the marketplace and our stalls are right next to each other, so we may as well collaborate for the good of our customers rather than passive-aggressively ignore each other and then blow up each other’s shops.


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